As told to Michele Koh Morollo. Illustration: James Bruce & Red Fin Aquarium Design
WHO: James Bruce
PROJECT MANAGER: James Bruce oversees commercial and residential projects, and specialises in filtration/life-support systems for aquariums for Red Fin Aquarium Design, one of Hong Kong and Macau’s leading companies in its field. Trained as an engineer, Bruce has worked with aquariums for almost a decade and was senior aquarist for Wynn Resorts in Macau, where he was responsible for maintaining the resort’s 11,000-litre jellyfish display, the largest of its kind in the world. “Aquarists often say they are not maintaining fish, they are maintaining water. If this is done well, the fish and livestock will look after themselves,” he says.
WHY SETTLE FOR a goldfish in a jar when you can have the ocean in your home? These days, aquarists are taking their passions to new depths as they explore the many possibilities inherent with a fish tank, such as a dance floor, bathroom sink, coffee table or even a bus-stop billboard.
Last year, British luxury gadget designer Stuart Hughes designed the Aquavista Dinosaur Gold, made from a piece of T-rex bone that costs close to US$4.9 million - though some might consider it too small and simple-looking for such a price tag.
For those who really want to amaze family and friends, Bruce and his team at Red Fin designed a room within an aquarium. "We wanted the owner to feel like they were surrounded by the ocean, so we created a circular-shaped aquarium with no corners to detract from the feeling of immersion. The inner space is 10 metres wide, which means a floor space of more than 75 square metres that can be used for dining and parties, or even live music and dancing," Bruce says.
An area with the world's most diverse reefs and marine life known as the Coral Triangle - a geographical zone in the western Pacific Ocean covering the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste - is replicated within the aquarium, which holds almost 160,000 litres of water and close to 1,000 fish from more than 100 species.
"There are large, eye-catching fish, like the queen angelfish and emperor angelfish, and also huge schools of smaller fish like anthias and chromis, which offer some of the most striking sights on the reef when moving in unison. We also included hundreds of different gobies, blennies and other small fish," Bruce says.
The corals that line the aquarium floor are grown from small clippings known as "frags", harvested from reefs. "Most of these would be Scleractinia [stony coral] chosen for their bright colours; we also included some alcyonacea to help mimic a natural environment."
A range of shrimp, crabs, clams, anemones, sea cucumbers, small lobsters, urchins and snails are included to enliven the scene and maintain a balanced ecosystem. "Aquarium owners are often very conscious of where the livestock is sourced from, and it is important to them that the fish and invertebrates are aquacultured or collected under sustainable quotas," says Bruce, who has built tanks for everything from giant Pacific octopus to jellyfish.
The most expensive part of this aquarium would be the 35-tonne acrylic tank made from multiple 110mm thick sheets that are bent to shape in a factory, then bonded together on site, followed by the installation costs and a state-of-the-art filtration/life-support system monitored and controlled by a computer.
"This system can do everything from maintaining temperature and controlling lighting to sending text messages to your phone if there is an issue with the tank," Bruce says.
This filtration system uses computer automation to simulate the tank inhabitants' natural environment and would be housed in a separate room either above, below or on the same floor as the aquarium. The lighting would be programmed to follow the exact solar-lunar cycle of the Coral Triangle - illumination would increase in the morning to coincide with the sunrise in Indonesia or Fiji, increase throughout the day, then dim in the evening. At night, LED lights come on to re-create the moonphases as they relate to the Coral Triangle.
"Many aquatic creatures rely on the lunar cycle to synchronise mating and spawning behaviour on the reef, so it's important that the day and night and lunar cycles are re-created perfectly in the aquarium," Bruce says.
Bruce's job will not stop at the set-up. Once the tank has been built and filled, Red Fin will take care of the maintenance, including feeding, twice-weekly tank cleaning by a professional diver, water-quality analysis and ensuring that all the life-support systems, lighting and filtration are in good working order.